Woods keeps the pressure on McIlroy at Sawgrass
WORLD number one Rory McIlroy was among the later starters at the Players Championship on Friday and was looking to continue his excellent form on the back nine after battling to the turn in 36 to remain three under.
McIlroy's drive on the par-five second was hooked so badly into the trees that it only travelled 137 yards and, although he saved par, another wayward drive on the sixth led to a bogey. The 26-year-old saved par on the seventh after missing the green with his approach and then pitched to within inches of the hole on the ninth to set up a birdie before heading into a back nine he has played in 33 or better in his last five rounds.
Meanwhile, the north Down man's predecessor as number one Tiger Woods celebrated the likelihood of keeping a proud record alive at Sawgrass, and then insisted he could still win a third Players title. Woods had not missed the cut in 16 previous appearances in the so-called fifth Major, although he has withdrawn twice through injury, but looked in danger of an early exit with one hole to play on Friday.
However, the 39-year-old birdied the par-five ninth, his final hole, to card a round of 71 and get back to level par for the tournament, one shot inside the current predicted cut mark.
Woods began the day one over par after finishing his opening 73 with a double bogey on the 18th and endured another rollercoaster round with five bogeys and six birdies. A birdie on the par-five 11th, his second hole, was followed by bogeys on the 12th and 13th, before birdies on the 15th and 17th took Woods to the turn in 35.
For the second day running, he badly hooked his tee shot on the first - it was measured at just 171 yards - and made bogey, but bounced back with a birdie on the par-five second. A bogey on the fourth was cancelled out by a birdie from 25 feet on the fifth before a dropped shot on the seventh looked set to prove costly, but Woods knew what he needed to do and the fist pump after he holed from nine feet on the ninth told its own story.
"It was probably to make the cut on the number," Woods said of his reaction.
"I figured it was probably not going to go to one over. We knew that playing the last couple of holes I needed to make birdie on one of the last two holes and I did. I haven't got a lot out of my rounds. Each round I should have been probably a few under par. I just need to start capitalising on my opportunities."
Woods has started just four events in 2015, shooting a career-worst score of 82 to miss the cut in the first of them and withdrawing through injury after just 11 holes of the second on February 5. After two months out to work on his game, Woods returned to action in the Masters and finished joint 17th at the Augusta National, but said on Tuesday he had not slept for three days following the end of his relationship with skier Lindsey Vonn.
At level par, Woods was eight shots behind pacesetter Kevin Na, who added a 69 to his opening 67, with South African Branden Grace and Canada's David Hearn also safely in the clubhouse on six under.
"As of right now, if it stays the way it's at, literally anybody who makes the cut can win the golf tournament," Woods added.
"I don't know what the lead is going to be at the end of the day, but, right now, there are over 70 guys within seven shots of each other. That's unheard of."